Envision Festival 2015 Recap
After our bus broke down about an hour out of San Jose, we were finally on the road again. The ride down to Uvita, Costa Rica was a much larger thrill than expected, simply because the majority of my bus was filled with people headed to Envision Festival. Luckily, I was able to check in the night before, and was privy to a small taste of underpinnings that go into making Envision what it is. Upon my arrival there were still volunteers and employees, some of which had been on site for 3 months already, hustling and bustling to make the space ready for a 4-day extravaganza of music, art, workshops, discussion panels, beach-lovin, and more. Bamboo structures were still being built, the stages still being put together, sound and pyrotechnics still being tested. Vendors were in and out, setting up booths of delicious wares and wears. I couldn’t imagine the venue taking shape in the next 12 hours. Much to my amazement the tenacity and determination of the human spirit prevailed yet again, and I awoke the next morning to voices of happy festival comers and an almost complete aesthetic experience.
Following a dip in what seemed like an ocean but felt like a giant hot-tub, it was time for Super-Hero Yoga with Sophia Fairweather followed by Penny Livingston’s talk entitled “Visionary Solutions and Resilient Relationships.” Bringing in ways of the red path, Penny began with calling in the directions, blessings provided for the flora and fauna friends of our earth, as well as the water, air, and fire elements that coalesce to allow for creative perfection. Her talk was uplifting to say the least- recounted tales of elder Native American teachings and prophecy combined with practical ways in which to engage the nature within and without was a perfect precursor to the opening fire ceremony.
A large group gathered around the ceremonial space with love in their hearts, healing intentions in their souls, and instruments in their hands to call in the protective energies of the 7 directions. In offering the only things we truly have in this world to sacrifice- food, water, and time, one is able to create a link to Great Spirit and make an offering- in order to receive one must also give. The sacred fire was kept aflame by the guardians the entire weekend for prayer with plant medicine offerings, communal engagement, and various ceremonies and workshops. Dharana, one of the guardians, reminded us that of the four elements fire is the only one which cannot be destroyed or contaminated, for inherent in its nature is the essence of transmutation. Therefore, it is the one untainted elemental link that has not been degraded by human destruction of the environment and can provide a clear channel for us to directly connect to Great Spirit.
A majority of my night was spent around the sacred fire, peering into the depths of the dancing flames, singing, and connecting with the guardians. Eventually I wandered over to the Luna Stage and right into Lafa Taylor’s set, filled with some seriously fun, boogie-down inducing remixes of 80’s, 90’s, and 21st century party music.
The next morning began with Raja Vinyasa Flow with Kishan Shah. Although extremely crowded and a bit uncomfortable in the tropical 9 a.m. heat, it was a much necessary reprieve from the constant aches of sleeping on a not-so-padded floor. After a dip in the ocean it was time for Kaypacha’s astrological report, followed by a talk with Charles Eisenstein entitled “A New and Ancient Story.” Reality, according to various esoteric and gaia-based traditions, is made of up stories. The quantum realm of science has added credence to this idea with the discovery that, at the smallest level we can currently perceive, atoms are made up not of matter but information. We have been brought up in this idea that one day the human race will reach heaven through controlling the chaos of nature, and come to live in a Jetsons-esque paradise free from living plants and animals. In striving to reach this dream we have created a sort of hell on earth; however, we are not doomed. As Eisenstein put it, it is the space in between these stories, these programmed projections, that something new can be born. During his talk about bringing in a new paradigm Charles brought up a metaphor of a man in a maze, trapped, anxiously running around and around but unable to escape, which then creates more anxiety and results in a negative cycle. However, once the man stops and takes a second to quiet the mind and breathe, he hears a song that he hasn’t heard before, but has always been there. He decides to follow the music and realizes there are hallways he never noticed were there, new paths to take to reach his goal of getting out. Eventually, he gets to the end of the maze and enters into a completely new world, a new environment free of the traps within the maze. Had the man not stopped and taken the time to heal himself, to come back into his own body and mind, he never would have stopped running, never would have heard the music, never would have found alternative pathways and escaped the maze. This man is us, our contemporary culture that feels so trapped as if they need always to be moving, unable to enjoy the music because there are people dying somewhere, there are fires somewhere, there is devastation somewhere. Yet, his point was that we cannot martyr ourselves in the name of sacrifice and healing. If there was a fire would you try to put it out yourself, or spread the word so that a large group could come together to create large-scale change? Sometimes it is necessary to first spread awareness and knowledge, to create environments that foster solution-based thinking, as well as action. By what couldn’t possibly be an accident in the scheduling at the Village stage, next up was an Untz discussion panel on Green Solutions, Political Action.
The sunset at Envision Festival is one for the record books, with proximity to both the equator and the beach enhancing an already magical refraction. Each night at sunset there was a party on the beach, a giant drum circle and fire spinners adorning the sand as thousands of festival attendees watched that bright ball of flame drop straight down below the horizon. As soon as that last morsel of sun dipped below our line of vision the beach erupted in a roar that could give the howler monkeys a run for their… money? Bananas? You know what I mean…
Ayla Nereo started off the night. I had never heard her solo project, and was instantly blown away not just by her vocals, but by her energy and the amount of fun she was having on stage while simultaneously channeling beauty and grace through her voice. Ayla’s set led directly into the Wildlight set, another first for me. After a beautiful and sensuous dance experience, Santos y Zurdo was next at the Luna stage. Wow. If you haven’t gotten a chance to check out this Costa Rican-based Indian-electronic fusion now is the time. Polish Ambassador followed- need I say more? Does this man and his music really need any description? After Polish, Ill-esha graced us with her electronic passion and following her was Emancipator closing out my night.
Saturday was a beach day, spent soaking in the sunshine, glittering sand, and warm saltiness of my long lost friend, la playa. Aside from beach hanging and an utterly amazing press conference/ joint interview with Ayla Nereo and David Sugalski (watch out for write up, full audio, and photos coming soon!), a large portion of my time was spent wandering, meeting some of the most amazing people to frequent the center of the western hemisphere. Envision festival was, and will probably continue to be, a hub for networking (they even had a space for that!), connecting intimately, and for play. Besides the bamboo jungle gyms, suspended trampolines, and giant wooden/recycled rubber structures, there was my favorite part of the festival- the seed pod boat! Exactly what it sounds like, some genius on the Envsion crew decided to fill a wooden boat with Entada Gigas, or Sea Hearts, which grow on a vine in the carribean. Upon first glance sitting in a wooden boat in a pile of hard brown seeds is not very appealing, but somehow these seeds manage to envelope the body like an acupressure memory foam blanket, drawing out all tension and aiding the release needed to ground down and relax in such a stimulating environment.
By nightfall I was exhausted and was only able to catch Groundation, Phaleh and Ott. All were pretty dubtastic in their own unique ways, and Ott even played some material off of his new album. It was great. That’s it.
Sunday, the final day of the festival began (after the ritual tendencies of meditation and ocean swims) with a talk by Stephen Brooks, one of the original creators of Envision Festival. He first began by telling us how he got interested in permaculture through various family trips to the Caribbean coasts, life-altering events, and working with children. During his talk Stephen told a story about a group of botanists who went into the jungle to test what the local healers claimed to be various forms of ayahuasca. Their scientific conclusion? There is only one type of vine. To this the healers then asked “Are you not listening to the ways they sing?” We as a technological society have lost touch with the spirit of the plant kingdom, the subtle patterns in which mother nature unfolds her healing power to us. Switching gears a bit, Stephen then explained permaculture as a style of macro-systems thinking, and adapting the same method one may use for increasing onion yields to the physical, mental, financial, and earth-affecting energies that are in play in the various current paradigms. He suggested that now is the time- there is no such thing as not enough money, and then introduced the idea of a Sweat-Equity exchange, in which one person provides the money, one provides what is considered equal in work, or sweat. In this variation of the barter system both parties get what they desire, and in the end both end up with a piece of the land investment in which to start a community or school or farm or whatever the dream may be. The point is to find our soul-tribes, to look around and clearly state what it is you want to create, find others who also want to create that, pool your resources, and DO IT!
Following Stephen Brooks was Daniel Pinchbeck speaking about everything. If that seems broad, well, it was. The talk went from Daniel’s new book and Center for Planetary Culture to crop circles to tantra to transition towns to permaculture to mixed media and journalism to plant medicine and healing to globalism and responsibility and the role we as humans have to fit something so much larger than us into that tiny channel we call our brains. After the talk I went over to Daniel to ask him about Iphones, because he had mentioned something in his talk about the precious minerals mined from the depths of Africa only to be shipped to China and then assembled and shipped to the United States. I couldn’t help but wonder what his view was on the use of these communicative devices, how one could simultaneously fight for worker’s rights and environmental causes, and then immediately after go on their Iphone and post a photo or write a comment about the riot or protest that just took place. Are we culture of hypocrites? Can one find a balance between using such tools to campaign for a world in which we don’t need them? To this, Daniel responded that he believes it’s all necessary, all part of our evolution. If there is a divine plan this is how it is meant to go, and if there is no deterministic principle to the flow of our reality then what’s the point of worrying? The point is not to become indifferent to the suffering and destruction, but rather to become detached in a way that allows us to gain a bird’s eye perspective of the situation, to become as objective as possible, and in doing so becoming as aware of the multiplicity inherent in any situation.
Passiflora opened the evening with their folky yet soulful voices, femininely inspired dance, and amazing acrobatics. This Costa Rican group of ladies is quickly topping my “Heady Mamas” playlist. I seriously can’t get enough of their sound, their bi-lingual lyrics, and their energized performance. It’s truly a gift when the band is just as excited to be present as the audience. Some other amazing performances of the evening were the Envision Orchestra, Govinda, and Emancipator. When I woke up from a nap at 7am I was shocked to still hear music… maybe emancipator went late? Oh, no. It was none other than Desert Dwellers playing a surprise sunrise set to close out the festival. Absolutely beautiful! They even pulled out a special song- their very first. Around 7:30-8am they finished up their set and invited a brother on stage to play a double flute and welcome the morning, and as the sonic layers echoed throughout the jungle the crickets started to hum a bit louder, followed by a howler monkey salute, and finally a gliding hawk adorning the lingering dawn.
As I stood at the Luna stage in awe I couldn’t help but recap my weekend. Besides the goods I have just given you (which also included ionized water, compost toilets and garbage cans, and reusable dishes for eating/drinking) as at any festival there were some not-so-goods, such as multiple water outages, misuses of composting toilets, a giant labyrinth that was tent-city, and over-crowded workshops. Reflecting on this, on the impact we had truly made over the long weekend, my mixed emotions brought up a lot of questions that I couldn’t answer- Can a festival retain its community feel with a gathering of over 5000 people? With that many people, how can we create spaces that are intimate enough yet large enough to include all who want to join? If that space isn’t possible, do we create separate spaces based on interests? Does this in turn give people what they want or inadvertently create more separation within the event? What is the number at which it stops being a gathering and starts becoming a festival? Is it possible to have a truly sustainable design when the attendees are not necessarily paying for that type of experience and are just there to enjoy the music? Is it possible to create a truly sustainable experience with such high ticket costs? Is the idea of a wild jungle experience worth the risk of health and hygiene, i.e. running out of clean drinking water multiple times throughout the festival? Is this even something the festival can control, or is it instead a result of globalization and desire/need to make as much money off of tourists as possible? Are we, the privileged 5-6000, who are either able to afford the cost or afford the time to work here, creating a sustainable community or recreating the community we live in elsewhere? Is there a way to make these types of workshops, lectures, music, scenery, healthy food choices, etc. available to the masses on a large scale for longer than just 4 days? With the discussions, workshops, and multi-cultural experiences so abundant at this festival, are these not exactly the types of questions the producers are trying to invoke? I believe they are… and they are not rhetorical. Let the solutions-based spirit enable us to engage in an open discussion, and please post your viewpoints or other questions either below or on Sensible Reason’s Facebook.